By Rivka Kulik
Many older adults, even those without memory issues, are challenged with a skewed perception of time. The diagnostic term is dyschronometria. Simply, it means that a person cannot correctly judge the amount of time that has passed. It may seem that hours have passed when only a few minutes have, or it may seem that only a short time has passed when in reality it has been longer. Other issues with perception of time for older adults include knowing the order of events as they occur, difficulty remembering the month, day or time, and differentiating between past, present, and future.
At the same time, older adults are very aware that time is passing, and every moment is dear to them. Caregivers should be aware and sensitive to that.
Remembering and knowing what time it is, what day of the week it is, and what month it is affects the activities and schedules of older adults – including medical appointments, when to go to the senior center, what time the home health aide will come, and other important or daily occurrences.
When scheduling activities, remember that which once took a short time may take longer. Older adults may be physically challenged. They move and do things slower. Don’t hurry them.
There are a number of ways to help your loved one sail smoothly through the waves of time:
Have a large calendar handy, on the wall, desk, or night-table. Appointments, visits, and activities should be clearly delineated. As the events and days pass, they should be crossed or checked off, whatever the individual prefers. This will show what needs to be done and what was already accomplished.
Place clocks around the home. They should have the time clearly displayed with large numbers. Digital clocks will show the exact time, but clocks with dials are what they may have grown up with, and those show how the hour is divided. It’s helpful to use both.
Make sure the schedule is realistic. While she was once able to dress herself and children all in 20 minutes, it may now take her much longer than that just to dress herself. When he was once able to pay the bills in one evening, he may be too overwhelmed and will need to break it up into a few days.
Remember that older adults have less energy and tire easily, so try not to schedule too much for one day. Space the doctor appointments for different days when medically safe to do so.
Most people, especially older adults, thrive on routine. If there is a change expected, warn the person in advance. Write it down and have her put it somewhere where she will see it and be reminded.
Be ready for your loved one to change the schedule. She may not be in the mood for what was planned, or too tired. She may prefer to do something easier. If he thinks he already ate lunch, then he may actually still be full from breakfast.
Review the schedule with the person, and be specific. Remind him/her that the guests are coming over in three hours, preparation will take one and half hours, and the guests will stay for three hours. Specify the times, “It is now 9, they will come at 12, so we need to decide to prepare now until 10:30. They will stay for 3 hours until 3 pm.”
When going out, remember to include time for transportation. Access-A Ride may come late. There may be traffic. If you're driving and park far, it will take him longer to walk than it would you.
Set a time every day to speak to your loved one and try to make it the same time each day. If it’s earlier in the day, remind him what is on schedule. If it is later on the day, recap what his day was like.
Reassure your loved ones that it is okay to forget and that rescheduling is almost always an option. And please be patient with them.